During the summer months, many churches take their youth to the beach to get away for a week and focus on intense discipleship and evangelism. These trips can serve as growth opportunities for the young people within the church as well as evangelistic opportunities for those youth who haven’t been born again.
Each year, as I scan through social media, it never fails – I typically see at least one beach baptism scene where a group of teenagers are gathered around while a few of the teenagers are baptized in the ocean. It’s usually not a group of teenagers from a church near the beach. It’s a baptism of one of the youth from the church who professed faith in Christ and was immediately baptized in the ocean before traveling back home.
As we consider baptism and its purpose, I want to provide several reasons why you should not baptize a new believer until the church is gathered. It doesn’t matter if it’s a young person on the summer retreat or a senior citizen who professes faith in Christ while visiting Israel. Before being baptized in the ocean or the Jordan River, you should consider waiting until you arrive back home and gather together with your church.
Baptism Isn’t Private – It’s a Public Event
Baptism serves as a public act of obedience and a profession of faith in Christ. In the first century, as people would gather around a river or watering hole for baptism, when other people walking down the road would pass by and witness this act, they perhaps would ask, “What’s going on here?” Someone from the crowd would respond, “This man has become a follower of Jesus and he is being immersed under water as a sign. His old life is dead and as he’s raised up from the water it serves as a symbol that he has a new life in Jesus – the Messiah.”
Throughout my formative years, I can recall people being presented before the church as new converts. This wasn’t done in the baptistry, it was done at the end of a church service. At some later time, the person would be baptized. As I read the New Testament, the pattern of a public profession of faith seems to happen at the time of baptism.
Therefore, to baptize someone at the beach in a small group of teenagers is to miss the point of the public testimony of conversion. The overwhelming majority of people in that geographic area are complete strangers. Beach baptisms for believers who live hours away from the beach fail to serve as a public profession of faith. The most pure profession of faith is not at the end of a church service or an announcement on Facebook, but it happens as the new convert follows the Lord in the waters of baptism. John Piper once stated the following in his sermon titled, “I Baptize You With Water” from Matthew 3:
The message Peter gave in Acts 2 ended with the words, “Repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ” (Acts 2:38). Our renewed conviction is that we need to regularly offer baptism as the decisive public way for people to respond publicly to the gospel.
Baptism and the Church
The act of baptism is one of the ordinances of the church. Would you be confused to find out that a group of seniors from the church observed the Lord’s Supper in a cabin in the mountains while they were on a church trip together? That should concern us, because the church isn’t gathered and the Lord’s Supper is an ordinance of the church. Who fenced the table? Were other people from our church invited to observe the Lord’s Supper too? We immediately consider the implications, and we should.
The same thing is true regarding small private baptism services on the beach or at the lake. Just because a teenager professed faith in Christ doesn’t require him to be baptized immediately. It’s trendy because it’s the beach. Often kids from places like Kansas don’t see the beach very often, so the temptation is to perform the baptism in the ocean just so the child will be able to say he was baptized in the ocean. That’s not a sufficient reason to perform an immediate baptism. The church and baptism go together and to separate them is to miss the mark.
The church is responsible to disciple people in the faith. Before baptizing people, we must be sure their faith is genuine. Often, this requires intentional discipleship opportunities and oversight from the elders of the church. The church should desire to evangelize people through baptism services, and holding private baptisms at the beach or at the lake will not allow for that opportunity upon returning home. Since baptism doesn’t take away sin, the need for immediate baptism is simply not required. It’s important for family, friends, and others in the church to see new converts obey Christ through baptism.
After a person is baptized, it is the duty of the church to journey together through life. It’s the mandated responsibility of the church to hold one another accountable in the faith. Baptism is a marker and serves as a public testimony for the church to see the new believer and take responsibility in the act of discipleship. That’s missing when baptisms are held in private.
If you’re planning to take a church trip this year to the beach with a group from the church, if someone professes faith in Christ, rejoice with them, however, don’t allow them to be baptized in the ocean. Explain why it’s important for them to be baptized in the context of the gathered church. If done properly, there will be little regrets for waiting until you return and celebrate together with the entire church. As the new convert comes from the waters of baptism, the church is reminded of Christ who died for their sin and was raised again on the third day. The church will continue to celebrate this central truth until Christ returns.